‘Our best days are in front of us’: Howard Schultz shares vision for Starbucks future

Howard Schultz standing, addressing a room of people

“Over a cup of coffee, we bring people together. It’s time to celebrate what Starbucks has been, who we are and a reimagining of who we’re going to be.”

At an Open Forum on Monday, April 4, Howard Schultz’s first day back as Starbucks chief executive officer, he spoke to a global audience of an estimated 15,000 partners (employees) where he shared his love for Starbucks and his vision for the future of the company he built.

Putting partners first

“[Our partners] have done Herculean things over the last few years. As much as we’ve tried to do, we haven’t done enough. That’s an admission, we have to tell the truth. We will, I promise, do better for our partners,” Schultz said. In a nod to the company’s critics, he boldly declared: “They’re counting us out. But Starbucks best days are ahead of us. I promise you. Write it down.”

Reimagining the future

“The future of Starbucks, in my view, has to be something like this. We have to reimagine, most importantly the experience for our partners. And what does that mean? It's not just wage. It's the environment in the store. It's the joy. It's the sense of community, its fulfillment,” he said. “We have to reimagine the customer experience. The third place environment which has been such a foundational aspect of the Starbucks Experience all over the world is now somewhat confined by the fact that people are not using our stores the same way. And so all those stores that we have that have big lobbies, they may not be as relevant tomorrow as they have been in the past. We have to redefine, redesign our store experience.”

Suspending stock buybacks to reinvest in partners and stores

As shared in his letter to partners today, one of the first steps Schultz will make is to suspend the company’s stock repurchase program, effective immediately, to invest in Starbucks partners and stores for long-term growth.

“I am not in business … to make every single decision based on the stock price, or the quarter, or EPS, or adding shareholder value at the expense of our people or our customers.”

On unionization and the need to restore trust and belief

Schultz was more than forthcoming about other areas in need of change. In the midst of a pandemic, a racial reckoning, and political divisions that have eroded trust in public institutions around the world, Starbucks 34,000 stores around the world have not been shielded.

“We're going to do everything we can to ensure the fact that our partners understand the most important elements of everything Starbucks has done and will do is elevating the partner experience. And my job in coming back to Starbucks, is to ensure the fact that we, the collective we, co-create, reimagine a new Starbucks with our partners at the center of it all. As a pro-partner company. A company that does not need someone in between us and our people.”

Connecting & co-creating the future

In the coming weeks, Schultz will be traveling to connect with partners in stores and manufacturing plants around the world to hear first-hand thoughts and ideas about how to build this next Starbucks.

“It is both a return, and a new beginning,” Schultz said. “I have big dreams for all of us, bigger dreams than I had (before) ...It's a return to doing everything we can to put our partners first, especially the partners who are wearing the green apron in our stores. It's a return to the celebration of coffee, something that for whatever reason has kind of been dissipated over the last few years. It's a return to kindness and joy and respect and dignity. It’s a return to the sense of community and the third place that has defined Starbucks for over 50 years.”

Also in the works? A new coffee blend by and for green apron partners, digital innovation through NFTs and plans for continued evolution of partner benefits, with more detail expected in the weeks ahead.

“All I ask of you is to embrace, not a standard of mediocrity, but embrace every step of the way, a standard of excellence,” he said. “… And let's honor everything that Starbucks has stood for for 50 years. And I promise you we're going to come out of here like a goddamn tidal wave.”